Herculaneum & Pompeii

Herculaneum & Pompeii



Explain the problems and issues concerning the study and display of human remains.

The study and display of human remains at Pompeii and Herculaneum is threatening to encourage a highly controversial issue as the treatment of human beings as a historical source inevitably incites conflict between archaeological and cultural codes.

Skeletal remains were discovered at Pompeii in the first excavations in 1748, to which were firstly utilized as objects for display and secondly as resources for research. By the 1980s an increase of excavated remains in both Pompeii and Herculaneum and caused the question on whether or not it was appropriate to publically display someone at the moment of their death. The display of Florellis plaster casts remain controversial with some arguing that the casts depict clear replicas of people with facial expressions of trauma. This is compounded by the fact that the International Council of Museum’s (ICOM) Code of Ethics does not ban the display of human remains as it encourages sensitivity to community relations. Wheatlance (?) argues that at Pompeii ‘there is little evidence of the fact of respect or feelings of human dignity required by the ICOM Code of Ethics relating to the display of human remains’.

A further debate in regards to the study and display of human remains is the ethical obligation we have to history. It is undeniable that the research skeletal remains have provided a wealth of information regarding health, nutritional status and the composition of the town. For example, Dr. Estelle Lazer from Sydney University’s examination of 300 skulls revealed a prevalence of malaria in the population, indicating information about nutrition, etc. Understanding the past is an ethical obligation of historians, and with the impact of new research technologies (CT scans, DNA analysis) there remains an even larger onus on historians and archaeologists to secure and obtain as much information as...

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